Dream Catchers partnership helps high schoolers envision a pathway to college

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Everyone has the power to make a difference in the life of a young person. The Dream Catchers partnership between George Mason University and local K-12 public school systems offers an opportunity for at-risk high school students to receive mentorship and support from Mason faculty, staff, and graduate students.

The Dream Catchers program provides hope for college-capable youth enrolled in Fairfax County and Prince William County Nontraditional School Programs. Students apply for Dream Catchers through their school counselors, generally during their senior year.

A group of high school students pose for a photo with Mason employees on the concourse at EagleBank Arena. The Patriot mascot stands in the center.
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“The program is designed to help students overcome barriers and see that attending college is indeed a possibility for them,” said Karen Kitching, associate professor of accounting in the School of Business. Kitching has volunteered as the coordinator for the Dream Catchers program since 2013 and has been a mentor since 2007.

“The program started 22 years ago with a goal of providing hope, encouragement, and support to at-risk students in alternative high schools and to help them achieve their dreams of attending college,” said Kitching.

Dream Catchers is sponsored by Mason's Office of the Provost, with additional support from the Office of Admissions, the Office of International Programs and Services, and University Life.

The program currently serves approximately 30 high school students each year and has supported approximately 300 students since its inception 22 years ago under the leadership of Peter Stearns, provost emeritus.

Mentees are invited to attend a campus tour, workshops on college success skills, team building activities, and other campus life activities—like a Mason men’s basketball game and the International Week Dance competition. These activities help the students picture their lives as college students, Kitching explained.

The college application process can be challenging for all students—even those with strong support systems. Julie Shedd, associate dean with the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution, has served as a mentor for the Dream Catchers program. She first got involved as a mentor after her oldest child started college.

"His college search raised my awareness of how difficult the process is, even with a lot of family and school support. I realized how much need there is for students who are first-gen or without those supports to have adult mentors to help guide them through the process,” said Shedd.

After completing the Dream Catchers program, many students apply to a community college, Mason, or another four-year college or university.

As longtime coordinator Karen Kitching prepares to leave her faculty role at Mason in December, the Dream Catchers program will be led by two new co-coordinators, Shedd and Buz Grover.

Serve as a Dream Catchers Mentor

Mason faculty, staff, and graduate students are eligible to serve as Dream Catchers mentors. The time commitment includes monthly events held on campus on Fridays, along with two evening events.

Mentors get to know their mentees and their goals, support them in the college application process when needed, and share their own insights based on personal experiences. 

Grover, director of contracts and special projects with Operations and Business Services, also serves as a mentor. He supports Dream Catchers to honor those who helped him in his youth.

“Several notable teachers and adults stepped up and helped me wrangle the issues I faced in my teens. Paying it forward is the least I can do to pay homage to those who assisted me,” Grover said.

Dream Catchers is seeking new mentors to help promising students find a path toward college. To volunteer as a mentor, contact Julie Shedd.